Racing Services

A nine-year partnership of pride and prolific engine building

Contrast is the key to the two characters who left John Willment’s bulging competition team nine years ago to form what is now Racing Services (Engines) Ltd. at 1, Strawberry Vale, in the West London suburb of Twickenham. Spike Winter, at 49 the elder partner who has seen and suffered most of the hard knocks that the motor trade can bestow. Ken Brittain, a spry 35 years of age with concentrated knowledge born of a comparatively early determination that specialising in competition engines was the only path he wished to pursue. Spike, the cautious counsellor who guards anything that might loosely resemble a trade Secret with bulldog tenacity. Winter has worked along with the natural craftsmen of another era, making up solid axles with Frazer Nash, suffering the rigours of RAF National Service only because “it was a fine way of picking up a trade, and I never liked khaki anyway.” Ken, leaving school to be amazed at the antics within Aston Martin at Feltham, often totally at odds with his partner over his frank comments, yet both working easily together on that common bond: racing (or more recently rally) engines.

Brittain left Astons—”I was too young to get into the competition shop”—for Willment, where he found Winter, who Was to become their manager on the racing side. Demonstrating the compactness of the competition world, Brittain recalls that his place at Aston Martin was taken by Geoff Richardson (himself an engine builder of repute today) and that he worked with people like Stuart Mathieson (Mailman Engineering).

Spike thinks, like Henry Ford (but rather more bluntly expressed!), that history is bunk. Sit around for long enough though and he’ll peer over the steel-framed glasses and confide that he did enjoy Frazer Nash and preparing Les Leston’s Cooper Monaco—”we even had Moss in it once: he was great, though I remember Frazer Nash’s people turning him away because he was too young,” an amiable chuckle at the memory of Britain’s best driver being shown the door!

Continuing the “it is a small world theme” were the personnel (Racing Services employ but eight people, even today) in the canal-side workshop. There, almost happy at the receding memory of Gold Leaf Team Lotus, the bespectacled John Miles works hard, as he has done for several years, at assembling engines. Nobody comments in any way on John’s Formula One past and, totally unlike many other former competitors who find their way into companies providing competition services, John never seem’s to recall his racing days. In fact Miles is more likely to talk to a journalist about writing, a field in which he Was quite well known at one time.

Seen with the benefit of hindsight the Willment team of the mid-sixties was an extraordinary affair with very good cause to claim the title of being the largest private racing equine in British post-war history.

When the young Brittain had been initiated into the rites of competition he, like 31 others, were working on what Spike describes almost incredulously as “anything up to 19 cars, appearing all over the World. ‘Strewth it was a fair job just to get everyone in the right place at the right time.”

In 1967 Winter and Brittain left to form their present partnership. Outside work begun for Brittain in his father’s garage and continued there until “there were about 30 engines filling every possible space that a car might have fitted in.”

Trading as Racing Services Partnership, Brittain remembers the opening year as mainly devoted to rebuilding work on the Lotus twin-cam engine, primarily for use in Elans at that stage. Then, a full -strip and rebuild of the TC unit amounted to £80: today, the same service performed upon the BDA Cosworth-Ford has escalated to £300. The year was Considerably enlivened by the owners of a powerboat named Broad Jumper, who entrusted the new partnership with building two of its V8 engines. Brittain, laughing, recalls the fine tuning under way-at sea. Spike, mournfully, remembers the passing of the truly magnificent cigars which formed part of the generous payment. The boat went very well, securing a second overall in its first outing with the partnership’s engines installed.

The following year saw Racing Services operating from within part of the old Aston Martin premises, in which they stayed until the move to their present home at Strawberry Vale in 1971. During the late sixties and 1970, their work developed along the apparently logical line of enlarged twin-cam engines which brought them back into frequent contact with the saloon car racing world. At 1.8-litres one might have thought the twin-cam had been stretched enough, but a very significant contribution was the need of one of their most loyal customers, David Brodie. A 2.0/2.1-litre capacity had been realised from a twin-cam cylinder block and now the task was to make these special blocks.

“People used to casually call those bodged blocks,” Brittain recalls, “but that was inaccurate and unkind. It took six weeks to make each one and we had no failures that could be attributed to the block, even when one of them had been sleeved three times.

“The process started with a simple bore of the iron block. Then we took the block and sleeves to fettle them for a maximum fillet, ready for welding. The man who did the gas welding swore he used to lose half a stone doing the job and refused to have more than one block a week. After that there was a two-week stress-relieving programme, where the block would be cooked and cooled. On its return we would machine all the faces, cut all the necessary threads and then think about building an engine.

“In 1971 we built one of these 2-litres for Brodie, complete with huge Weber 58 DCOEs on the 13DA cylinder head . . . previously the engines had been of a twin-cam layout. On the carburetters it developed about 220 b.h.p. and, with the chilling of a 2-litre F2, we could expect some other business outside saloon cars to develop.”

In fact, Brittain’s most memorable racing events had been prior to the advent of 2-litre F2, as Neil Trundle and Ron Dennis came into the office one day, “waving their Sinclair briefcases and dropping Brabham stickers everywhere.” The result was the task of rebuilding 1.6 Cosworth FVAs for Brabham: their first such engine was installed for Graham Hill’s classic Easter 1972 win over Ronnie Peterson’s March at Thruxton. That winter Ken went to the Temporada series and the contact with various F2 teams resulted in a lot more single-seater work than before.

With the advent of 2-litre F3 in 1973, Racing Services were pretty well prepared. All they had to do was install the Cosworth BDE (1800) Lucas fuel injection onto the kind of full 2-litre block that had been used so successfully in Brodie’s Escort.

At the opening of the season they had a healthy 260 b.h.p. and the partnership were revelling in the design and manufacture of their own parts for the F2 engines (mainly pistons and valves). Things looked good and extra staff, up from three to seven, were brought into the straggling accommodation at Strawberry Vale. McLaren had become a good customer, first with gasflow work required on some of the then all-conquering Can-Am Chevrolet V8s, and then to supply engines for Jody Seheckter’s Impact sponsored F2. “Jody really was indecently quick,” says Brittain, “but it hardly ever finished. Still, we had some enjoyable racing in company with really professional people who knew how to enjoy their racing. Unfortunately BMW and the oil crisis brought all that sort of work to an end, more’s the pity.”

In 1972 Brodie also led them into some mild blueprinting work for his Norman Reeves Capri 3000T. Spike has always had a soft spot for Fords, hut even he has been surprised at the sheer volunie of work that they have now attracted on the V6 preparation front. Holman Blackburn had a very fast V6 engine prepared by Racing Services for his Capri in 1974. That attracted the attention of Ford at Boreham, for their Capri driver (who went on to win this tightly contested class against the Opel and BMW challenge of that year) Tom Walkinshaw found himself looking at Blackburn’s exhaust’s.

With Boreham in the fold, Racing Services went rapidly from the 150-odd horsepower they had started with to the current 220 b.h.p./6,800 r.p.m. capacity of the current RAC Group One Ford V6 engines. This remarkable power output from the single, twin-choke carburetter engine is the product of five years’ practical Work anti Ford’s normal high pressure homologation procedures. An RAC Championship Ford V6 will have larger valves, harder valve springs, new high-compression pistons and a high-lift camshaft, ground from a blank. Although the carburation is still of single, double-choke configuration, this carburetter is actually an obsolete Weber which—as with many homologated parts front all kinds of motor manufacturers these days—takes ingenuity and money to acquire.

A feature of the RAC Championship regulations, as compared to FIA rules, is that the cylinder heads can be polished, though this is an expression that makes Brittain flinch “Honestly, you’d think it just a question of flashing a rag along the inlet tracts: people just cannot believe that, with a pair of heads to do on the V6, this is a £300 operation. We have dissected the heads—intentionally and by accident—and we now know where all the water passages actually are and what profiling (the ports have to measure what the maker has specified on his homologation form) is needed. Even working to the drawings we supply, it takes about four days to complete a set of heads.”

Other V6 characteristics which have been learned, and an answer provided, included a baffled sump with “side cheeks and baffles, but that’s only part of the problem. We often find that the modern oil cooler has been designed with the passage of water in mind. There’s often insufficient tubing diameter to allow efficient oil circulation, and it’s not uncommon to find that engines installed in a Capri will be running 15 lb./sq. in. below our recommendations because of this. The V6 engines normally account for something like 100 hours labour. Complete with parts a brand new unit will Cost £1,100, assuming the customer brings a new V6 with him and that VAT is excluded,” Brittain concluded.

There are two interesting side avenues to the main single carburetter Group One V6 path. First is the completion of half a dozen triple Weber 42 mm. downdraught engines, resting on what is explicitly described as “a knife and fork manifold.” In fact this is a conversion of the old fuel injection induction formerly used to house Tecalemit Jackson equipment for the V6. Because of the inanifolding power output is little better than the single-carburetter motors.

However, looking at the European potential for customers in the recently introduced revision to Group Two, Racing Services have decided to construct a V6 suitable for use its Europe next year. The first step, which was briefly produced for us to see, is their own rocker arms, Presently constructed from solid metal, the firm will he looking at much cheaper ways of producing these, and other items, which could make the Capri V6 a match once more for the “Unbeatable BMWs.”

A Racing Services engine has now won three of the four BRSCC Tour of Britain events organised so far, one a Chevrolet Camaro and two Escort RS2000s, The latter’s four-cylinder, s.o.h.c. unit is thought by the partners to he a robust engine, but one that they cannot afford “to get clever with.” At present they are making more of these engines for rally use than racing, restricting output to the 150 horsepower level, where they feel the customer gets-a reliable and torquey unit. They say that 160 b.h.p. can be attained, but reliability definitely suffers, The homologated equipment, as discussed in last month’s review of the Tour, is even more comprehensive than the 3-litre Capri’s changes, but even so Racing Services agree that worthwhile power bonus could be released from the adoption of a less restrictive exhaust system.

On a general level, the head casting for this Pinto/Cortina/Capri 2-litre engine was singled out for comment.. Front a power output viewpoint the large head casting produces some amazing disparities in cylinder head chamber volume, hut otherwise the engine can he persuaded to produce competitive power by straightforward changes—the homologated double-downdraught carburetters, camshaft, valves and revised exhaust system—accompanied by the common sense of practical experience. Ford get a warm bonus from these tuners who frankly admit, “it’s amazing just how fast the RS2000 goes on less power than its rivals.”

Technically speaking one of the most enterprising and interesting exercises they have been involved in this season has been a strictly one-off (because of his loyal custom) for Brodie. Now fully recovered from his awe-inspiring accident at the 1973 British GP meeting, Brodie re-entered the RAC Championship jousting this year with a Mazda RX3. Racing Services, partly because of the technical interest, agreed to convert the 2.3-litre RX3 rotary engine. However, although the rotary engine is no stranger to British specialists like Mathwall, extracting power is not as straightforward as one might expect, owing to the fact that the engine really is under continuous development. “We must have seen 10 different types, by which I mean really different, the bolt holes will not line up and so on,” comments Ken adding, “but it is a most rewarding engine to work with. The main power gains lie in the induction porting and exhaust, the pipes responding to similar toning techniques as have been practised on two-stroke motorcycle engines. It is a totally different king of engine to work on, as compared to the normal piston design, for you can forget ordering up piles of new parts and just rework the components that are provided.

“The rotary is no magic power producer. I reckon it gives an Output between that of the best two and four-valve-per-cylinder conventional engines of similar capacity rating. Although you don’t need the nitrided crankshafts and special conrods and pistons that you find in a modified piston engine, a blowup is a very expensive matter. Brodie had to run without water for a spell in the British GP supporting race and that engine is scrap: there’s no question of rebuilding or replacing, the engine is totally ruined. Power? Well the Brodie engine is our business and an exercise that we do not want to repeat, but we have built a 260 b.h.p./5,500 r.p.m. limited Group Two engine that has shown up well in Europe,” says Brittain.

Present customers include most of the front-running Capris in the British Touring Car (Capri?) Championship, a couple of V6s in France and a lot of Pinto or BDA rally engines.

Another intriguing exercise, in line with the kind of development and research work they, would like more of, are the Lancia-Fiat-Ferrari V6s that will power Chequered Flag’s new Lancia Stratos, Graham Warner has commissioned the company to actually make up new crankshafts, camshafts and valves for the hybrid V6s.—J.W.